April 1, 2023

PHOENIX — In a 50-50 Senate vote, Democrats have zero room for error on the campaign trail and in Congress, as the party seeks to build on hostility largely defined by President Biden’s albatross-like approval ratings. Navigate in a political environment.

But with the Senate’s battlefield map largely set after last week’s Arizona and Missouri primaries, Democratic candidates outperformed Biden — with tight contests or leads in nearly every key race.

In Washington, Senate Democrats are racing to support their position, demanding a vote as soon as Sunday on a comprehensive legislative package that represents their last and best pitch before the midterms to stay in power.

However, a history of midterm elections and unpopular presidents is not in their favor. With the fall election less than 100 days away, the defining question in the Senate race is how long — and for how long — Democrats can continue to outpace Mr. Biden’s unpopularity in key races.

“It’s a billion-dollar question,” said Robert Blizzard, a Republican pollster who has studied patterns in how the president’s support has affected Senate races over the past decade.What he found: Few candidates outperform the president by more than six percentage points — a worrying fact for Democrats at the time Mr Biden’s approval Nationwide it has fallen below 40%.

“Presidents’ approval ratings are the weight of their party’s nominees,” Mr. Blizzard said. “Gravity will apply at some point.”

So far, Senate Democrats have been led by a cash advantage, some strong candidates, and a string of first-time nominees from Republicans — Herschel Walker of Georgia, Dr. Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania, Blake of Arizona Inspired by the facts of Masters. Struggling to find their footing, facing questions about their past and generally failing to focus their 2022 campaign on dissatisfaction with Democratic rule in Washington.

The GOP strategist involved in the Senate race, speaking on condition of anonymity, said frankly that the three candidates — all of whom were endorsed by Donald J. Trump in the primaries — fell short of expectations.

Democratic strategists hope the domestic climate and tax policy package they aim to push through Congress, as well as the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, will revive a demoralized party base that is particularly unhappy with Mr. Biden. But Republicans insist that passing major legislation, like the Affordable Care Act of 2010, could also inspire their position and could further entangle Democratic senators with Mr. Biden in the minds of voters.

The battle for Senate control is taking place in more than half a dozen presidential swing states, making Biden’s approval ratings all the more important. Republicans need just one seat to take control, while four incumbent Democrats face a tough race. The retirement of three Republicans has created an opportunity for Democrats, and a Republican senator is running for re-election in Wisconsin, which Mr Biden won by a narrow margin.

Republicans achieved a success Tuesday that avoided disaster in Missouri, when voters rejected a comeback Senate bid by scandal-plagued former Gov. Eric Gretens in favor of what is now considered the most popular state attorney. Long Eric Schmidt.

In a best-case scenario for Democrats, they maintain control or even gain a few seats if circumstances change; in a worst-case scenario, support for Mr Biden collapses and Democrats lose about six seats, including Colorado and Some seats in bluer states such as Washington state.

For now, Republicans see Mr. Biden as their not-so-secret weapon.some ads are literally deformation Senate Democrats faced him as part of a brutally planned blitz to tie incumbents to their pro-Biden voting records.

“We call it a 97 percent club — they vote 97 percent of the time,” said Steven Lowe, the lead head of the Senate GOP super PAC that has kept $141 million in TV this fall. advertise.

With Friday’s strong jobs report, long-stalled legislative action and falling natural gas prices — albeit from record highs — Mr Biden’s support is likely to rise.

In stark contrast to the House of Representatives, where Republicans gleefully talk about the coming red wave, Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who sounded more like a trench warfare general, lowered his tone on Wednesday. expected Fox News.

“When the Senate race smoke clears, we’ll likely still have a very, very close Senate, either we’re up a little bit, or the Democrats are up a little bit,” he said.

In the four states where Democratic incumbents are most vulnerable — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire — Survey data from Morning Consult Mr Biden’s approval ratings have fallen sharply since early 2021. His net approval ratings in those states fell by 27, 20, 27 and 24 points, respectively. However, all four Democratic senators maintained their favorable ratings.

“Voters are dealing with Democratic candidates separately from President Biden,” said Jeff Garlin, a Democratic pollster. “Even where the number of presidents is down, we’re seeing the ratings of incumbents go up, which is a very unusual mid-term dynamic.”

Some Democrats have also developed unique brands that can protect them in the most competitive race.

In Arizona, Senator Mark Kelly is a former astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived the 2011 shooting. In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock used an affable terrier in his last game as he took to Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. In Pennsylvania, the Democratic nominee is John Fetterman, a 6-foot-8, tattooed lieutenant governor who doesn’t look like a typical politician.

“The Democrats do have some good candidates,” acknowledged veteran Republican strategist Corey Bliss. “But the point is simple: If Joe Biden has 30-something approval ratings, it doesn’t matter what Rafael Warnock says or does. Because he’s going to lose. Period.”

Mr. Bliss said Republicans were experiencing a cyclical “summer of bedwetting” before the fall slipped.

But some Republicans worry their party has picked some worse-than-average nominees in important states.

Mr Walker, a former football star who avoided primary debates, has been plagued by exaggerations and lies in his past about his background in Georgia and the emergence of children he has had with whom he has not been in regular contact. A team of state operatives has been dispatched to stabilize his campaign.

TV personality Dr. Oz has been trying to shore up Republican support after a brutal primary election as Democrats slammed his recent New Jersey residency. opinion polls show Mr. Feltman is ahead, although he has not held a public event since his stroke in mid-May.

Mr. Feltman’s campaign has moved its efforts almost entirely online, and Dr. Oz’s campaign has ditched the digital realm when it comes to paid advertising. Since May 1, Dr. Oz has spent $0 on Facebook and about $22,000 on Google; company records show Feltman spent about $1 million in that time.

Still, the political environment has Republicans favoring Senate seats in North Carolina and Florida. In Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron Johnson is up for re-election, the party believes Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who Democrats have just cleared for him in prime areas, is too liberal for the state.

Some even want Washington and Colorado to be competitive. In the latter state, Democrats spent millions trying unsuccessfully to prevent moderate businessman Joe O’Dea from becoming the Republican nominee.

“I appreciate the ads,” Mr. O’Dea said in an interview. “It raised my profile.”

The Senate dynamics are clearest in Arizona, where Mr. Biden flipped the state in 2020 but polls show he is now unpopular.

Even before Mr. Masters won the Republican nomination on Tuesday, he had set out to link Mr. Kelly with Mr. Biden. Speaking at a pro-Trump rally in downtown Phoenix on Monday, Masters slammed Mr. Kelly’s reputation for dovishness and accused him of approving “inflationary” spending.

“What Biden, Harris and Mark Kelly have done to this country – it sickens me,” Mr Masters said.

Still, Mr Kelly took advantage of his finances — he had $24.8 million in the bank as of mid-July, compared with $1.5 million for Mr. Masters — to run TV commercials for months to position himself as a The centrist who gets the job done. Crack down on oil companies and his own party.

Among Mr. Masters, Republicans have a 36-year-old nominee who faces questions about his past comments and positions, including calling a notorious domestic terrorist Unabomber, underrated thinker; questioning U.S. involvement in World War II; and expressing Open to privatizing social security in retiree status.

A recent poll of the super PAC supporting Mr. Masters showed a majority of voters strongly disapprove of Mr. Biden; Mr. Masters trailed by five percentage points.

The survey suggests that Mr Kelly’s main weakness is that he is seen as close to Mr Biden’s agenda, although the Masters event will likely require payments from outside groups to prove it.

“I had to raise money,” Masters said in a brief interview this week. “But all I really want to do is tell the truth. Tell the truth about his far-left voting record.”

Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist who advises the super PAC supporting Mr. Masters, said focusing on Democrats is critical for all Republicans. “You’re going to see all the incumbent Democratic senators who vote with Biden nearly 100 percent of the time are relentlessly tied to those ballots,” he said.

But Democratic adviser Christina Freundlich said a “chaotic” list of Republicans like Mr. Masters is targeting a bipartisan 2022 campaign.

Ms. Freundlich, who was involved in Terry McAuliffe’s unsuccessful bid for governor of Virginia last year with vest-clad Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, said the new Senate Republican candidate was not Glenn Youngkins: “They have more fringe views.”

GOP super PAC leader Mr. Roe said his team would reassess the Senate landscape throughout August, looking for candidates who “have enough money to connect directly with voters — and communicate discipline to focus on issues that resonate.”

“Not every candidate can do that,” he said sharply.

Starting in September, his team has booked $51.5 million in TV commercials in Arizona and Georgia, although Mr. Luo has not committed to the full booking. “We have more time to evaluate both,” he said, questioning the Masters campaign for being oversight. “Especially in Georgia, I’m seeing very positive signs of development in the Walker camp.”

Like Georgia, state agents are now beefing up the master team, including a new general counsel and voting and media teams.

Sean Goldmacher reporting from Phoenix, and Maggie Haberman from New York.

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